Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How Will the Swiss Find the Water?

Yesterday's post on potential health problems from climate change touched on the threat of increased droughts. Another study quantifies what that might mean in a European context. Switzerland would have to irrigate up to a quarter of its farmland.

The Swiss federal agricultural research station Agroscope said about 10 times more land would need to be irrigated to avoid lost harvests, some 400,000 hectares (988,000 acres) instead of the 38,000 hectares that currently receive regular irrigation.

But researcher Jurg Fuhrer told AFP that such huge irrigation to cope with more frequent drought might not be economically viable or feasible.

Twenty-six percent of usable agricultural land and 41 percent of arable land is at risk due to the drier climate that has been emerging in recent years, the scientific study found.
This is a sobering thought:
Climate research cited by Agroscope has indicated that summer rainfall in Switzerland could be cut by up to a fifth by 2050.

Agroscope predicted that three months of sun without a drop of water would become a common feature for Swiss summers -- comparable to the severe European heatwave of 2003.
Presumably some of the irrigation water can be sourced from nearby rivers, such as the Rhine or Rhone rivers mentioned in the article. The trouble is that if neighboring countries are facing similar problems, there may be a limit to how much one country can draw. Plus, with a drier climate, chances are that the volume of water would be reduced from current levels.

The heatwave from 2003, by the way, resulted in more than 37,000 deaths and a substantial reduction in agricultural production.